When I woke up from my suicide attempt, I had only one thought — “I can’t do this again.” I wish I could say there was some identifiable process that led me away from suicide, but for me a switch was simply turned off. I feel incredibly fortunate in that regard; I know that for so many others the way back from suicidal ideation is a long and difficult one that you struggle through for some time. I just thought that if I were going to live, then I would have to do things to fix my life.
Slowly and steadily, I put my life in order. I found great comfort in totemism; Kangaroo, for me, taught me how to be comfortable with few things and sparse connections, how to be an emotional nomad. I got a full-time job at a (terrible) convenience store, then landed my dream job at a used bookstore. I got heavily involved in my local furry community. I was an avid tabletop gamer and LARPer. Over time, I found my tribe and together we formed a strong identity. I belonged somewhere.
Even my rocky relationship with 2 got better. My roommate eventually moved to a trailer park a ways out of town, and it was more and more difficult to get to work without a car. I started staying at 2’s place more often, and eventually moved back in. We weren’t in a relationship anymore, but we rebuilt a close and comfortable friendship. We knew each other well and had an easy, amiable rapport.
He came up with the idea of 2 Sense and invited me to be a co-host for it, and I jumped at the chance to work with him. He was getting into spoken word essays and the like, and no one had thought of a fandom-specific “radio show” before. (Maybe they had, and they were already out there, but I don’t remember hearing about them at the time.) I came in, chatted with him about whatever came to mind for 90 minutes or so, and he edited and mixed the conversation. We put it up, and that was it.
People responded to it, and we developed a following. No lie, it felt pretty good to be a part of it. We were doing something that people liked, and there was this whole community of people that formed around it. When people started to write in with their own news or to ask for advice, it made me feel more connected to the broader furry community. One of my absolute favorite things is giving advice to folks with problems. Few things make me feel more consistently like I’m fulfilling my purpose than helping to relieve someone’s burden.
A lot of 2’s opinions that I so strongly disagree with were there, in hindsight. He always disliked pride parades. He encouraged a closeted teen to remain closeted if they knew their parents wouldn’t approve. He had a tendency to advocate “tough love” positions, where people should suck it up and deal with things they didn’t like until they were in a position to handle the consequences of doing something about it. I disagreed with him then, but the difference of opinion never felt malicious. He saw the world differently than I did, and I thought between us we could come up with advice that would help people one way or another.
Over time, as 2 did more stand-up and got more and more recognized, the tone of his relationship with people changed. He was less considerate of what they thought, he tore down their ideas a bit more eagerly. I noticed that a lot of people were never really sure where they stood with him, and he tended to do one thing and say another. I know that this is personal, anecdotal evidence and as such pretty much amounts to “my word vs. his”. I’m including it because this has been my experience with 2, and it contributes to my idea about his relationship with his audience.
One day, it was discovered that some news we had reported as submitted by a listener turned out not to be true. I thought we should address it and do our best to verify news items when they came in before going to air with them and I told him so. He disagreed; he thought it wasn’t our responsibility. If our audience was misled by false information, it was their fault for not verifying the things we said.
I couldn’t come up with a counter-argument for that stance back then, but it sat deeply wrong with me. I didn’t like the idea of reporting whatever we were sent without checking to see if it was true. I would still feel responsible if we said something, someone did something based on that information, and it turned out to be false. I just didn’t want to have someone act on bad data or ideas. But this was 2’s show, and he was going to run it the way he saw fit. That meant I couldn’t be a part of it any more. I left 2 Sense a short time later.
Since then everything I’ve seen 2 say has been filtered through that lens. He genuinely doesn’t believe that he should be responsible for the things he says; any negative consequences that come from it are entirely the fault of the people listening. If someone gets upset with something he says, they should just stop listening and get over it. He should say whatever he wants, and he should be free from whatever the fallout from that is.
Human interaction simply doesn’t work that way. We are a social, emotional species. We have the most sophisticated communication system on the planet because we are intensely concerned with not only transmitting information, but connecting through shared experience and emotions. In order to properly receive what people are throwing out, we need to be affected by it. Emotions aren’t something that can just be turned off; they’re a part of our wiring. We may learn to control them, but we’re never going to be able to simply not have them. Having an emotional response to the people around us is part of what makes us human. It’s empathy.
But here’s the thing; I think 2 on some level understands that his words have impact. He’s glad to accept praise for his stand-up and rants. He responds very well when someone agrees with him. When he dismisses the people who criticize him as “haters,” it’s totally fine for someone else to absorb that sentiment and reinforce it.
He cannot have it both ways; he cannot choose to recognize the positive effect of his words on some and dismiss or trivialize the negative effect it has on others. Communication is never going to be a perfect way to connect our thoughts, ideas and emotions to other people, but anyone who is serious about speaking — especially in a public forum — needs to understand that their words will have an effect (whether he thinks they should or not) and be careful about making sure those effects are as positive as he can make them.
I know that 2 is smart enough to understand this. He’s very good at deflecting criticism in ways that take the conversation away from the substance of people’s issues with him. I’ve seen him characterize opposing viewpoints as a straw man, attacking a logical extreme of that opinion and forcing others to defend something that’s frankly indefensible. He also moves the goalposts of the conversation, so that his condition for winning an argument is “do nothing” while he forces opponents to jump through an increasingly severe series of hoops to back up their criticism. When they’re unwilling or unable to do that, he chalks it up to “haters gonna hate” and moves on.
For one thing, this seriously lowers the level of discourse about important subjects. It’s the method he uses to remove responsibility for his own words and puts the onus entirely on the critic. It’s why so many conversations surrounding 2 end up being so much noise; he pushes criticism back so far from the original subject that his own bubble of agreement is preserved.
It also keeps us from talking about the damage those opinions are doing in the first place. The same people who agree with 2 see how he effectively dismisses criticism as “hating” or “insubstantial” or “drama” (seriously, let’s retire that word) and parrot it back to critics elsewhere. He is simply not interested in engaging with people who have serious problems with his words, attitude and engagement. He may say he is, but the way I’ve seen him deflect and slip arguments say otherwise.
So with the most recent flare-up, where 2 talks about depression, suicide, and how we should respond to it, there are serious issues. He is giving bad advice and bad opinions to people about the most vulnerable and misunderstood people in our community. And instead of listening to the problems that people have with them, he blocks them on Twitter and reduces them to “lonely, frightened” people. There is simply no discussion with someone so invested in not listening.
Tomorrow, I’ll talk about his video response to the recent criticism and how it illustrates my point. I’ll also rebut a lot of the points he brings up to the best of my ability.